COVID-19 and the associated stay-at-home orders have brought attention to the issue of intimate partner violence (IPV) as well as other forms of domestic violence such as child abuse. Increased isolation, as well as new stresses, have increased the incidents of harm.
IPV, or domestic violence, is abuse exerted by a current or former partner/spouse. It includes various forms of violence such as, psychological, verbal, financial, physical, and/or sexual. It can also present as stalking.
This type of abuse exists across every country, gender, race, age group, culture, class, religion, and sexual orientation. In fact, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a 2015 report stated that approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men have experienced stalking, sexual violence or physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. According to CDC, about 9% of high schoolers reported physical violence by their partner in a 2014 survey.
“IPV thrives in privacy. Abusive individuals often isolate their partners through the use of various manipulative or violent tactics, and utilize blaming and shaming behaviors to prevent their victim from seeking outside support,” said Shely Basnet, LCSW, LAC, with The Therapist Group at Maria Droste Counseling Center. “Increased isolation, loss of income and loss of community resources due to COVID-19, have, in some cases, escalated the severity and even the frequency of IPV as partners are in close and continual proximity. This does not mean that the consequences of this pandemic are causing abuse, but they are likely making abuse worse.”
How to recognize it
IPV can take different forms and often escalates gradually and subtly, making it easy for whomever is the object of the abuse to discount it, minimize it, or deny it is happening. Victims of IPV experience self doubt, guilt and shame that can lead them to blame themselves.
Shely explained that IPV has a distinct theme of power and control. It also has a pattern: a tension-building phase, an abusive incident(s) phase and a honeymoon or calm phase. In some abusive relationships, these phases are distinct and easier to identify, whereas in other relationships, this cycle may be rapid or blurred. So, why might you not have noticed this happening?
A few reasons for this are:
- These behaviors were normalized in your childhood.
- Abusive behaviors were defined as love or a normal part of expressing romantic and/or sexual interest.
- Not having a model for healthy relationships or conflict resolution.
- Not having been taught assertion of healthy boundaries or adherence to others’ boundaries.
Intimate relationships generally do not have an abusive or violent beginning. They often start out full of fun, connection and love. This can make it difficult to recognize subtle signs of boundary violation or other forms of abuse. However, none of these reasons are justification for any type of abuse. If you are experiencing, or have experienced, IPV, you are in no way at fault. You deserve to have respectful, loving and safe relationships.
How to stay safe
Shely encourages anyone experiencing IPV at this time to create a safety plan.
- Establish one or more codes with someone you trust to alert them to danger and a need for support (discuss beforehand what this support looks like).
- Avoid rooms with weapons or sharp objects, including the kitchen or bathrooms.
- Create a routine that allows you to leave the house at least once a day. This can include scheduled appointments, gardening, walking or physically distanced social plans.
- Keep a hidden list of resources you can utilize, such as names and addresses of shelters.
- In some abusive relationships, strategies such as talking back, yelling and setting firm boundaries can work. Please implement these tactics ONLY if it is safe to do so.
- Stay with friends or families.
- Reach out to a domestic violence advocate or a therapist who is well-versed in IPV.
Where to find help
Here are a few resources in the Denver area for victims and survivors of IPV:
- Maria Droste Counseling Center (303) 867-4600: Trauma and mental health therapy for adults, children and families.
- SafeHouse Denver (303) 318-9909: 24/7 hotline, safety planning, information about IPV, shelter.
- Project Safeguard (303) 219-7049: Protective (restraining) orders.
- Colorado Legal Services (303) 837-1313: Legal support and advocacy.
- Family Tree (303) 420-6752: 24/7 domestic violence hotline, shelter, legal advocacy, supervised parenting.
- Servicios De la Raza (303) 458-5851: Therapy and safety planning in Spanish and English.
- The Blue Bench (303) 329-9922: Therapy and support around sexual violence.
- Motherwise Colorado (720) 504-4624: Various forms of supportive programs for pregnant individuals and mothers with newborns.
- Denver Children’s Advocacy Center (303) 825-3850: Support for children (and their family) who have experienced abuse and other forms of trauma.
- Rose Andom Center (roseandomcenter.org): Houses several legal and therapeutic programs within the building.
- Colorado Crisis Center:1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or chat at thehotline.org
A final note: Couples counseling is contraindicated for individuals experiencing IPV. Separate therapy and counseling services for victims/survivors and individuals exerting abuse are initially recommended.
*** Thank you to Maria Droste therapist, Shely Basnet, LCSW, LAC, for contributions to this blog. ***